Eating EAT-Lancet: Conclusion

Estimated reading time: 16 min. For something shorter (reading time: 7 min) see "one week of eating EAT-Lancet"

And no, not eating the report (far from ideal, nutritionally). Just following the proposed new guidelines by a bunch of smart researchers for a “sustainable diet”.

It’s been a week of counting, calculating, and cleaning measuring cups, and let me tell you- it wasn’t easy at first. 

And if this is the only post you read from this series, here is a summary of the take-aways from the start.


  1. Eating 6 forms of animal sourced food (beef/lamb, pork, poultry, eggs, fish, dairy) in one day is ridiculous, and impractical (just imagine your weekly shopping list…getting anxiety just thinking about it? yeah me to).
  2. I had no concept of what a gram was (blame ignorance, or being American, or both for that matter).
  3. I straight away ignored some things (for sanity purposes). i.e the authors gave no category for coffee (but they also didn’t for water so… same thing?).
  4. I lumped things together and tried to stay within the limits for the week (eating 1/4th of an egg a day? unenjoyable and inconvenient)
  5. adjusted the numbers to bring it down to around 2000 calories a day (ball park). i.e. not everyone is an adult male.

Basically from day one I realized this diet is theoretical, and far from practical. Makes sense for academic report writing but does not for real life. So, it took some brainstorming and number crunching to translate this thing into something doable. For example, I choose to eat only one type of meat for the week (shopping for one here). And I tried to come up with a shopping list that wouldn’t make me run to the store everyday , or break the bank (because I’m a working woman with a life and an expensive travel obsession).

This diet is only a first step for sustainability. What you buy and how its produced matters. There’s way more to it than just keeping your meat intake to 300 grams a week.  Even if you do eat more meat, if its produced sustainably and you’re supporting those systems and local farmers in the process, that’s just as important. So, in addition to a shopping list, below are some links that take these extra steps.

Week One: 

Tip: Stay away from processed foods, and look for the smallest amount of ingredients. 

I tried to stick to products that had (certified) elements of sustainability: local farms, pasture raised, organic…but weren’t absurdly expensive. 

  • .5 lbs of fresh chicken
  • block of cheese (130 grams)
  • half dozen eggs
  • A bag of MSc Certified Flounder (frozen). Check the Seafood Watch App. 
  • a can of black beans, can of chickpeas
  • package of cashews
  • jar of peanut butter
  • Whole grain loaf of bread 
  • Seasonal fruit and veggies (focus on colors- esp. reds, oranges, and greens).

I was already stocked on things like whole grain rice, lentils, olive oil. I also already had some veggies from Hungry Harvest . Waste not, want not, right? 

Also for food waste- compost! As an urbanite, thankful for companies like compost cab.

Now, while day 0 consisted of me trying to figure out what a gram is (not to be confused with your mother’s mother), I did eventually get the hang of it. Good, because washing measuring cups was starting to take its toll. 

You’re days worth of legumes (black beans), nuts (cashews), and cheese.

Still, it wasn’t easy tracking things for a week. Which is why I whipped out my handy excel skills to make sure I didn’t go over my weekly limit (you say nerdy, I say smart). The stuff in red? Had a pretty hard limit, with a strict range, and unhealthy if eaten in large amounts. The green stuff? I wasn’t worried about going over because the range was pretty wide. The yellow items were those that needed to be watched.

Thankfully I was able to stock my fridge with exactly what I needed for the week. Shopping and stocking up in this way made it a lot easier for 1) cooking and 2) the anxiety.

Still, no one’s perfect, and I went over my weeks worth of eggs, fish, and legumes. Really? Legumes? Turns out while many are saying that this diet dramatically increases your intake of legumes- if you’re used to having them as part of your diet, it’s really not that much. I didn’t even eat them everyday.

For fish…the flounder fillets I got (sustainable sourced obviously) were prepackaged separately (yes, I know, plastic pollution… not everything is a win-win). For me, I needed about 2-3 fillets a week… so you either overeat your weekly amount or under-eat. Which just shows how hard it is to make this thing practical.

Finally, the most shocking thing about this diet was the amount given for eggs. As a vegetarian, I was eating a good amount of eggs. This diet? It’s about 2 large eggs EVERY 10 DAYS. See, I would much rather eat less meat, and have more eggs. Which is something I always considered more “sustainable”, especially since eggs are fairly easy to find locally compared to meat- where locally produced often comes with more stringent regulations in the US (and a hefty price).

On that note, one thing the authors could have done is offer a few different “reference diets” for different dietary trends: flexitarian (current), vegetarian, and vegan. These other diets exist, and are becoming ever more popular. Ya girl needs her protein, and what if I want to get all of it from plants? 

And what about substitutes? (Step away from the almond milk, that stuff takes up SO MUCH WATER). So oat milk? Or coconut milk? Is a coconut actually a fruit or a nut? The internet can’t even decide. Quinoa is apparently a seed? What do I do with that and these other popularized millennial items? Specificity comes with obligations, EAT-Lancet. See Critiques and Solutions for more.

Some of these decisions I avoided. I put aside the coconut milk and quinoa and stuck to the classics, like cheese, bread, and rice. Other things I ignored, like coffee/tea and spices. A couple other things I tried to adhere too or incorporate, and failed…. But did you know that there is about 30g of grain in a pint of beer, or 200g of grapes in a glass of wine? At least I tried. See this post on... sustainable alcohol consumption? To our collective dismay, alcohol does take resources to produce.

All in all, once I moved past the quizzical looks of my roommates as I obsessively measured every ingredient, or shooed away wandering hands trying to cut into my perfectly measured amount of cheese (my tolerance for sharing definitely went down), I realized I was absolutely eating healthier. Mainly because I was actually paying attention to the amount of servings I was getting of each food group.

There are critics that say this diet isn’t nutritionally perfect. And you know, maybe it isn’t. But whose diet actually is? Trying to eat a diet that is nutritionally perfect is just as theoretical as it is impractical. There is no doubt that if everyone ate according to these guidelines, or any well-meaning guidelines based on nutritional science, diet-related health issues would dramatically decrease. Because, what is a healthy diet anyway? Just try googling it, and dig yourself a deep internet rabbit hole while you’re at it.

Still, the biggest downside of this EAT-Lancet report is that it seems to recommend a diet built on our current, highly destructive, food system. A specific recommendation for palm oil? Really? And while the approach the authors took makes sense for modeling, frameworks, academics, yadda yadda…it still fails to embark on the question: what kind of food system could we have instead? Which, admittedly, is a whole other report and modeling exercise in itself. The authors do recognize the diversity of contexts, and the need for diverse production systems and solutions- of course, sustainability is highly context specific. Yet they recognize this, while giving a highly prescriptive diet with limited ranges and no substitutes? This diet is hardly sustainable if not applied in context, and as it stands it does not provide enough room to adapt.

For example, let’s say a country’s agricultural wealth was in its grasslands. The whole western US is covered in rangelands that are suitable for grazing cattle (since we killed off all the buffalo). Would it not make sense then, to get our portion of meat from grass-fed beef, instead of getting it largely from poultry…which would probably have to use large amounts of grain that directly competes with human diets? Even if all your meat for the week came in the form of unprocessed red meat, the total is so small that it probably won’t impact your health, even long term (any nutritionists out there? help?).

Photo by Skitterphoto on

Wait, hold up…I’m saying beef is ok? Well, at current levels of production- it’s not. Unfortunately only 5% of the US market for beef is grassfed, and the rest emit A TON (see post on exactly how many tons).

So, I think the totals are totally  doable (.5lbs- 2/3 lbs of meat a week). A half gallon of milk. 2-3 frozen fish fillet’s a week. 2 eggs every 10 days? still a little testy about that one. But overall, as a flexitarian diet for someone that still want’s to eat meat/fish 2-3 times a week, or not give up cheese, its great. But only if summed up at category level and then applied to context- not as currently written.

And while it’s great modeling exercise providing a framework for flexitarians, the report is still rooted in a global context- which is not how diets should work. Diets should be based on what you have available, what’s in season, what’s local, and obviously on your nutritional needs.

So should nutrition drive what we produce? Or should our resources? A huge gray area lies in between those two questions. One thing’s certain- the answer lies in the grey, and it will meet both human and environmental health goals. Where in that gray area? Well, that one depends on… you guessed it, context. And sooner or later we will find it- thankfully we humans are extremely innovative and adaptive… 

But let’s find it sooner, rather than later.

Days 2-4: TGIF, time to wine down.

Honestly, thank god for the food scale or I would have gone insane trying to figure out these quantities. Though I will say,I’m starting to get the hang of how much these things weigh and what my daily limit.

For example, a tablespoon of olive oil is around 14g. The reference diet for unsaturated oils is 40g, with a range of 20-80g. So a little less than 3 tablespoons for olive oil a day, an easy thing to keep in mind when cooking. Also, I know what a tablespoon of peanut butter looks spread on how many grams of grain of bread. 16 g of peanuts and 50 g for the toast. So, while the first couple days consisted of a lot of weighing, which meant a lot of washing of bowls and measuring cups, its slowly starting to make sense.

Still, there were somethings I needed to take the calculator out for. Like for milk equivalents. I already knew the milk equivalents for cheese because #priorities, but greek yogurt? No clue. Turns out the internet didn’t clearly know either. But thanks to the lovely people of the internet, I was able to get it down (see the end for values).

Furthermore, it’s Friday. And what if ya wanna turn up this weekend? Or at least grab a glass of wine or a beer with some friends. To our collective dismay, alcohol takes resources- like grain, fruit, and sugar- to make.

Is it really that significant? Well, in the US we drink 9 liters of pure alcohol per year. Now, not sure how much that translates into wine or beer, but I’m assuming it’s a lot.

And how do other countries compare? Check out this cool map from Our World in Data. See Russia and Eastern Europe coming in red hot? I guess some stereotypes do reign true. 

EAT-Lancet, of course, does not offer a reference for sustainable alcohol consumption. Probably fair, offering a recommendation for alcohol sounds irresponsible. Or is it?

This probably warrants another post, but there are plenty of studies that look at moderate alcohol consumption and what that means for health. Some even say that small amounts can be positive. Glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away? Sounds a bit too good to be true. But the report dives into these kind of studies for red meat, which is often unhealthy and culturally inappropriate, so why not alcohol?

Anyway, I took to my calculator to at least figure out how many grains in a glass of beer and grapes in a glass of wine. With another thanks to the people of the internet, I got the numbers. Probably way off, so if you know better- please weigh in. [Pun intended]. The whole point is to make this diet realistic…right?

  • Milk to cheese equivalent: 10 to 1 (ex. 250 grams of milk is 25g of cheese)
  • Milk to greek yogurt: 4 to 1 (ex. 1 gallon of milk is 1 quart of greek yogurt)

As with anything on the internet, these may not be accurate. But it offers something to work with. If you have better values please share!

  • Beer: 30 grams of grains
  • Wine: 200 grams of grapes

Full disclosure, this was even more a shot in the dark than with milk, using spottier internet information. 

So, as with anything on the internet, these may not be accurate. But it offers something to work with. If you have better values please share!

I will update this with other conversions if needed (and more importantly, if I can figure it out). 

You may be thinking: this is great and all, but what did you eat? Here’s a breakdown below. 

And how am I tracking all of this you ask? A good ole spreadsheet. I will upload an easy to use version of this once I nail out the kinks (and figure out how to do it on wordpress).

US Beef- Let’s talk emissions.

There’s been a lot of push back from the EAT-Lancet report. Especially from the meat industry, but also from a lot of meat-friendly US citizens. This is not surprising of course, and it makes sense- their industry and way of life is under attack, and it’s natural to get defensive. Often, the argument goes that the United States beef sector only contributes a small percentage to US emissions. However, there’s already several faults in that comparison.

  • EAT-Lancet is a global analysis, not focused on the United States (guys, its not always all about us)
  • EAT-Lancet focuses on all environmental impacts of the food system, not just GHG emissions, and not just livestock (i.e, land degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, nutrient pollution, water use, over-fishing, etc.). Though livestock is a big part.

Here’s a sentence from EAT-Lancet: “Food production is the largest source of environmental degradation, and has the greatest effect on the Earth System.” Period. Talk about a wake-up call.

And while the report has some major drawbacks, the main message of “eat less meat, eat more plants” couldn’t be more clear. And correct. Emissions aside (14.5% of global carbon emissions), livestock- of all agricultural sectors- is the largest contributor to deforestation (land conversion to pasture), biodiversity loss, and nutrient pollution. This is both directly, and indirectly through crop production used to feed livestock.

But alright, people want to focus on emissions. Let’s. The most complete (and recent) analysis I’ve seen of livestock in the United States is of the beef industry. This study found the beef sector emits 243 Tg CO2e (CO2 equivalent- aka all carbon emissions, including methane, etc.). Or 3.7% of US emissions.

Cattle represent 65% of livestock sector emissions, according to FAO. This is a global estimate but let’s say that reigns true for the United States. This puts total US livestock emissions at 374 TgCO2e, or 5.7% of total US emissions.

Yes, true, that seems small..but don’t forget, the US emits a lot. TONS. 6,511 tons CO2eq to be exact. With a population of 325.7 million, that’s 20 tons per person a year. That’s almost 3 times the global average: 7.2 tons per person. If the average US citizen emitted the same as the world average, that 5.7% would increase to 16%. Pretty significant.

Now these are rough estimates, but it shows how the story changes depending on how you look at the numbers. Sure, 5.7% of US emissions seems small but not when you compare to how much the United States emits in total.

Another argument is that cattle can do great things, especially in the United States where we have huge amounts of grazing land. And when sustainably managed, they can restore the soil, promote biodiversity, and provide valuable forms of nutrition where crops wouldn’t be able to grow. All facts, and good things. This is especially true of developing countries, where a lot of poor would greatly benefit- both in livelihood and nutrition- from increased production of meat, especially these kinds of systems.

However, since grass-fed beef only constitutes 5% of the US market, this “cattle do great things for the environment” argument cannot be used in favor maintaining levels of US beef production. Cattle can do good in theory, yes. But at current numbers, the destruction far outweighs any kind of environmental or health benefit.

So for now, skip the beef. And if you just have to have that steak, buy in small quantities and most importantly from local farmers and ranchers who are using sustainable grazing methods and maintaining the health of their land- they need the support.

EAT-Lancet: Critiques so far

First of all, the diet given is for 2,500 calories. This is too much for a majority of the population, aka all women and children. 2500 calories is the average intake for adult men, who also likely requires a different combination of nutrients compared to women or growing children.

Variations should be given for women, children, and men.

So, adjusting it to my needs was pretty much a shot in the dark. Any nutritionists out there? Help?

Another huge drawback is that it gives a very diversified flexitarian diet. The idea behind this is great, and for the purpose of the modeling behind the report, it makes sense: what highly diverse diet can the entire world eat and in what quantities to remain within planetary boundaries? However, translating this to an actual shopping list? OMG. It’s a headache. For an individual, try and shop for 7g of beef, 7g of pork, 29g of poultry, 28g of fish a day, 13g of eggs? Come on. Translating this into something that’s doable for a week is difficult as is. Yes yes, diversity of diets is important- but this is a bit extreme.

Condensing into simpler forms, like per week, per month, or per year. When people obtain their food, its not in this kind of diversity all in one day. Sometimes its chicken one week, beef the next. Sometimes it’s no meat at all.

Going further, it doesn’t give options for vegetarian or vegan diets which is a diet that many people in the world eat- whether its for religion, cultural, ethical, environmental, or other reasons. What if I don’t eat meat? I should be able to eat a lot more legumes, eggs, and dairy. What if I’m vegan? Proposing this kind of reference diet for all, even with ranges, does not address other diets that exist and will continue to exist.


Offer simple substitutes, chart form or otherwise. If no meat, how much can you substitute with eggs? If no dairy, what’s the plant based substitute? How much can my consumption of soy products/legumes increase if I choose to forego all animal sourced foods? Ya girl needs her protein, and I might not want to get it from meat.

Finally the whole dairy recommendation. Seriously EAT-Lancet? Do you not know that 65% of the global adult population have a reduced ability to digest lactose? Someone failed to do a quick google search on that one. I get you gave a range beginning with 0…but 500 grams of milk a day as the end range? That’s two glasses of milk a day…you would have a lot of people running to the bathroom, flushing a lot of water. Also not sustainable. 

I don’t really have one. A good portion of the world does not do well with dairy, so in the model they would be at zero. Does this mean those that can consume dairy can have more? That’d be great. Bring on more cheese. 

Eating Eat-Lancet: Day 1 Shopping List

So now that I’ve cranked some of these numbers out, it’s time to hit the store. And actually, this means that it’s back to a flexitarian diet for me. For the past 3-4 months I’ve been sticking to a vegetarian diet.

As mentioned in the Day 0 post, I’ve lumped somethings together, to make shopping easier and keep my sanity.

Some things on my list (which I tailored, you can see those decisions also in Day 0):

  • A half gallon of milk (I need 6 cups) or 150 grams of cheese (about 9 slices). Obviously cheese.
  • .5 lbs of meat. Chicken it is (paying attention to brand).
  • .25 lbs of fish. Not sure which one, but I’ll use the Seafood Watch App
  • We got some veggies and fruit from Hungry Harvest. Waste not, want not- right?
    • What I still need, I’ll check out the Seasonal Food Guide, and try to stick with those in season.
  • A loaf of whole grain bread.
  • And I’m already stocked on rice, beans, lentils, peanut butter, nuts, and olive oil.


What’s this all about you ask? Check out the overview.

This diet cannot be perfect, you say. Well it’s far from it, check out these critiques.


As mentioned, I tailored the values slightly (decreased) for a diet closer to 2,000 calories. Here’s the original from EAT-Lancet.  

I’m terrible and didn’t have time to eat breakfast (some argue most important meal of the day, I say its a nuance on work days). 

Also, I wanted to make it easy today and meal prepped yesterday for both lunch and dinner. Which was pretty much a simple veggie stir-fry (without egg) (I split the final in two).

  • 200 g of brown rice (grain)
  • 167 g of red bell pepper (red and orange vegetables)
  • 100 g of snap peas (dark green vegetables (I hope))
  • 140 g of onions (other vegetables)
  • 100 g of black beans (legumes)
  • 40 g of olive oil (unsaturated oils)

This caps my limit for grain, legumes, oils, and I technically go over the limit for vegetables. Actually fo vegetables, EAT-Lancet gives a pretty big range- 200 to 600 g per day- so I’m not worried about going over the limit for those. 

So, that leaves fruit, dairy, meat, eggs, fish, tree nuts. I’ll have some fruit and nuts as snacks to reach 2000 calories, but to start off strong today is #veganday. 

Local vs Sustainable

(estimated reading time: 6-7 min)

Not the first thing you typically want to do but let’s just really quickly go over a couple definitions.

  • Local food: grown close to where you buy and consume it.
  • Sustainable food: low impact on the environment, respects workers

The two are not always the same. Local food can also be produced with harsh chemicals and environmentally destructive practices, while “sustainable” food may not be produced close to where you are.

Plot twist: while “sustainable” food, even when travelling far, can sometimes still be sustainable, local farms will almost always be the more sustainable option.

Let’s rephrase: Local is almost always more sustainable, while food labelled with certifications might not always be.

This is for two different reasons.

One. Local farmers are usually produce on a much smaller scale, and even if they have no certifications or may use some harsh chemicals, they are not likely using them to the extent that there is great harm done to the environment. Also, small-scale farmers, especially those who produce a diverse number of products, are tied closely with the land- often understanding these systems far better than we ever will. Also, investing in small scale farms promotes the kind of scaled back farming systems we want to see more of. This supports the incomes of farmers who are working hard, doing what they love and are passionate about. Still not sure? Have a talk with the farmer who produces your food.

Two. “Sustainable” labels are not a thing. There is actually no way to control or regulate the word “sustainable” because it is a complex and dynamic concept, and so too many definitions exist. So, while you can purchase products that are labeled with different certifications, it’s extremely hard to determine where it falls on the “sustainability” scale. This is something the project will aim to tackle at a later stage.

Of course, when lacking access to farmers markets, a good practice to follow is that certified products are typically better for the environment compared to the same product produced conventionally. This is simply because certifications hold farmers and their production practices to higher standards.

So, here’s a recap with two rules of thumb:

  1. Local is almost always more sustainable, while labelled food might not always be.
  2. When you can’t buy local, a certified product is typically better than its conventionally produced counterpart.

As with anything though- not always, and not everywhere. Number 2 is especially dicey and goes back to the issues of labels. Hence, why it’s a rule of thumb, and not a rule of law. Also a question that you may have- what is the difference between a certification and a label? Post to follow.

Note, a huge exemption: fish. You’ll have to be careful with this one, because the rules for fish are always changing. A future post will look at this issue.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In the works is an updated map of all Washington, D.C. farmers markets including days they’re open, times, when the season ends, and forms of payment and benefits they accept. This will help make it easier to track down that local farmer for all your questions 😉.